Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Arrow Launch Service Celebrates 20 Years

The year 2010 marks a 20 year business milestone for Jack and Terri Harmon, owners and operators of two busy and vibrant marine businesses – Arrow Launch Service, Inc. (ALS) a water taxi service in Puget Sound ports offering marine transportation to deep draft ships at anchor or underway; and Victoria Rapid Transit, Inc. (VRT) which provides foot passenger ferry service between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada as well as service between Victoria and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington. Both companies are headquartered in Port Angeles.

The water taxi business has become a complicated and demanding 24-hour a day operation that requires having all the necessary resources. The state also tightly regulates the industry to make sure companies stay financially healthy, but within a limited profit margin to avoid taking advantage of customers.”

Today, Arrow Launch Services and its associated companies have more than 40 employees. In addition to administrative offices in Port Angeles, they maintain permanent moorage and storage facilities in Tacoma, Seattle and Anacortes. Along with the Victoria Express and Victoria Express II passenger ferries, Arrow’s fleet has a total of ten 40 to 65-foot vessels stationed throughout Puget Sound ports, including a 60-foot USCG-certified landing craft and two 40-foot by 15-foot flat-deck barges.

Shore-Based Services
Having to maintain a growing fleet spread throughout the region led to the establishment of a complementary company in Arrow Marine Services, a repair facility on land providing equipment and work space for sandblasting, painting, welding, fabrication and all types of marine mechanical, plumbing and electrical repair.

Having a staff of certified welders, electricians, and mechanics, as well as a land-based fleet of 10 trucks and related equipment, has enabled Arrow to provide other customers with a variety of mobile repair services 24 hours a day. They may range from towing and repairing broken down smaller pleasure boats or commercial vessels to responding to shipboard emergencies on a supertanker.

Ship supply and service has become an important part of Arrow’s business. One of the least desirable but necessary services is the removal of sewage from vessels that normally discharge their accumulations at sea. It is a messy and tightly regulated process because of the environmental issues involved. Arrow has found the best way to do it is to put a sewage truck on board a landing craft certified for sewage. They use trucks supplied by quality companies familiar with the marine industry and experienced in removing sewage from vessels at anchor.

Pacific Warehouse and Freight is yet another side of Harmon’s business, developed as a supplement to Arrow’s ship services. It’s a stevedoring warehousing division of the company that maintains storage facilities with up to 10,000 square feet each in Port Angeles, Tacoma/Seattle, Anacortes and Bellingham.

“Sometimes equipment or supplies show up before the ship receiving them enters port,” says Harmon. “In fact, we receive owner’s materials every day in every port. So we have facilities with a couple of forks at each one to unload and store it until the vessel gets here. Then we load the cylinder liners, paint, chemicals or whatever it is onto our boats, transport it out to the ship and stow it onboard.”

In addition, Arrow provides a procurement service for shipping companies having difficulty finding particular items of equipment. “For example, a ship owner called and said he couldn’t find through his normal vendors a specialty ice maker he needed,” recalls Harmon. “But our guys who deal with the local suppliers located the ice maker in five minutes. They had it aboard the ship before it sailed. Without someone to fill that kind of niche for them, the ship would have gone without it.”

According to Harmon, the various facets of his business are all fairly well balanced, with the water taxi business, the hauling of passengers and freight, and the warehousing being about equal in revenue.

“A report presented to the Port of Port Angeles several years ago showed that as ships get larger and cargoes become more consolidated, fewer ships will be coming into Puget Sound,” Harmon adds. “That is a concern for our water taxi and other ship services, and one of the reasons we are growing our ancillary businesses – repair, storage, and the ferries. The same study showed vessels under 300 gross tons and yachts are on the increase, so we want to capture some of that market.”

Harmon’s wife Terri, who maintains an active role in the administrative end of the business, says her husband has always been a hard worker, and his track record clearly demonstrates a drive to look for niche opportunities in the marine business and move into them. His company philosophy – “One call does it all – anytime, anywhere, any repair” – also indicates a service-oriented attitude that helped him succeed, even in uncertain times.

Victoria Rapid Transit, Inc. (VRT), the Harmons’ passenger-only ferry service, was born in 1990 using the 105-foot Victoria Express to provide as many as four round trips daily during seasonal summer sailings between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. In 2004, the 125-foot Victoria Express II was added to the mix, allowing the company to provide expanded service for passengers visiting Victoria, as well as to add service to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

During the 2010 sailing season, in recognition of its 20th anniversary, VRT is offering special reduced fare pricing to both Victoria and Friday Harbor as well as a 50 percent discount for active and retired military personnel.

With the increase in fuel prices and the newer engine technology available, VRT repowered the passenger ferries by replacing their older two-cycle 12-cylinder Detroit engines with new HE (High Efficiency) four-cycle six-cylinder Detroit/MTU engines. “The power upgrade was completed 100 per cent by our staff and vessel crew which affords our crews firsthand knowledge of how the components work together,” says Harmon. “The new technology will afford us more power, significantly improve fuel consumption and allow us to use bio-diesel. We have also completed installation of an electronics package upgrade on both vessels that overlays all systems onto one monitor, plus an online passenger reservation system.”

“The ferry service is a piece of the total operation,” says Harmon, “but one that faced difficult challenges in the post-911 days of proposed regulations of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) regarding identification for cross-border tourism.” To that end, the Harmons spent a good deal of time over a period of three years working with other international carriers from Washington State and around the country and with state and federal delegations in helping to craft workable rules in a timely fashion.

According to Harmon, the various facets of his business are all fairly well balanced, with the water taxi business, the hauling of passengers and freight, and the warehousing being about equal in revenue.

In April of this year, Jack Harmon announced the sale of the original Victoria Express vessel to the Port of Kingston. Both of the current vessels (Victoria Express and Victoria Express II) will remain in service for the 2010 Express sailing season. At the end of the season, the Victoria Express vessel will be transferred to the ownership of the Port of Kingston for use in foot passenger service between Kingston and Seattle. When asked about the future of the company, Harmon replied, “We’re excited about what the next 20 years has in store for our company. We plan on continuing our services from Port Angeles and are continuing to explore new and exciting ventures for our marine transportation companies.”